Near the end of our discussion with CFO Wilco Groenhuysen, he recommends a book while confiding: “It’s not a great book—but it has a big lesson.”
“Opportunities exist for only for a short time. So when you see an opportunity, grab it and make the best of it,” says Groenhuysen, revealing the big lesson and adding perhaps a surprise ending to a talk that up until his book recommendation appeared to chart the career path of yet another graduate from the CFO school of strict discipline and resolve.
But wait! There were other clues along the way that Groenhuysen was more a CFO of his own making than a familiar reproduction. Certainly, the fact that his professional life spans three continents should have tipped us off. Also, how many finance leaders would ascend to the top of a manufacturing behemoth (Philips NA) only to forfeit the comfort of hard-earned industry knowledge to land fleet-of-foot inside the always-changing realm of biotech?
Asked to explain how he addresses the difference between the two realms, Groenhuysen says, “Driving a car really isn’t that difficult. Sometimes the steering wheel is on the left side of the car, sometimes it’s on the right side of the car. It’s really the challenge, and here at Novocure, it’s the commitment to helping patients.” And no one doubts that Novocure’s CFO likes a challenge. While CFO of Philips Thailand, Groenhuysen challenged himself to achieve a conversational level with the Thai language—one of the few milestones that the finance leader admits with a degree of frustration that he may not have reached.
Still, even with a career as sprawling and experience-rich as Groenhuysen’s, one senses that the latest chapter may offer the most startling lessons yet for the Dutch-born CFO, who these days seems to enjoy educating others about science as much as about financials. Certainly, explaining how alternating electric fields can disrupt cancer cell division and cause cancer cell death is an altogether different opportunity than explicating the virtues of ultra-HD televisions. –Jack Sweeney
Guest: Wilco Groenhuysen, CFO
Company: Novocure, Inc. (NASDAQ: NVCR)
Headquarters: Portsmouth, NH
CFOTL: When you arrived at Novocure, what were your priorities when it came to the finance team and building that team?
Groenhuysen: The way I approached it at Novacure was not to try to fill the requirements of a staff team that met whatever the needs of today or tomorrow were, but hire as talented people as we could find or as I could find to build a team that I knew would meet requirements two, three, four years down the road. So we’re constantly building and continue to build the Novocure finance team so that we’re totally confident that we’ll meet what today requires but also meet requirements two years down the road. And that’s been our philosophy and it has not changed since the day I joined Novocure.
CFOTL: When we ask for a finance strategic moment, what comes to mind?
Groenhuysen: Well, a number of things come to mind, but I think we should also not think of strategic moments as finance strategic moments or sales and marketing strategic moments or engineering strategic moments or manufacturing strategic moments. Think of it as like, a businesses is like a football team, you need a great quarterback, but you need an offensive line as well. Without the protection of an offensive line, the quarterback cannot play the way he should play. I think from that perspective, if there’s a financial strategic moment that’s not supported and not recognized so it doesn’t create a sense of urgency within the rest of the organization, it will not create that team building, that synergy that any successful organization will have.
And the examples are fairly straightforward examples. At one point in time, the burn rate of a particular organization was too high and we felt that something needed to be done. It was intensively discussed in the management team and we took certain actions that improved operating leverage and reduced burn rates. And there are many more examples like that, but I think it’s not about an individual financial example. It’s about creating a team, a synergistic effect that makes an organization, or a sports team for that matter, better.
We’re looking at leading and lagging indicators, whether they’re financial or nonfinancial. And at the end of the day, revenue, cash flow, profitability are mostly lagging indicators. So we’re looking at … active patients and turnover. But another factor that that’s totally non-financial, but is very important for the success of the organization is, for instance, employee engagement. And that’s something we focus on a lot as well. So it’s a comprehensive set of core metrics focused on leading and lagging indicators, where if you monitor and pay attention and take action on those leading indicators, you’re going to see success in those lagging indicators.
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